The summer heat can be brutal to the sow herd – both the hot and humid climates and the dry heat cause concern for pig breeders. And their biggest concern is keeping their sows bred.
In parts of the country where humidity can exceed 90-percent, it is critical to have an action plan to cool down big, bred sows. At Cooper and Flash Genetics, sows are bred and farrowed in Batesville, Indiana. April Flaspohler manages the farm comprised of crossbred and registered stock including Yorks, Hamps, Durocs, Chester Whites, Spotted, Berkshires and Polands. After pigs are weaned, they are moved to Chickasha, Oklahoma, where April’s son-in-law, George Cooper, markets them to show families.
April and George were willing to share their suggestions so fellow breeders can beat the summer temperatures and keep those sows safe to farrow.
Their number one tip to manage stress is to consider where the sows are housed and be sure to cool with water and ventilation. On a hot summer day, a fine mist via a sprinkler should be flowing through the sow barn or pen, and this area should also be well ventilated with fans. Some breeders keep their sows in dirt pens where they can create a mud hole and lay in the shade. George says providing a misting system or a mud hole to lay in are the ultimate in cool-down protocols for bred sows.
Another way to reduce stress is to avoid mixing pigs. Minimizing when pigs get together means less stress because they are not trying to fight new pen mates. April says to let big sows lay down during extremely hot hours and don’t mess with them. If possible, don’t mix sows or gilts between seven to 45 days of being bred.
“These are the critical days for the pigs to develop inside the sow and mixing them in that time frame may cause them to re-cycle,” April says.
A sow might have heat stress if she shows signs of stiffness, is panting, foaming at the mouth or tightening up. George says these signs of stress mean she may also be dehydrated and could begin to abort. If heat stress occurs, not only could sows lose their pregnancy but they may also go off feed, which causes malnutrition in the pigs still in gestation.
Another tip from Cooper and Flash Genetics is to cut back on feed during the summer. George says they reduce approximately one-third of the sow’s feed in take in June, July and August.
“In Oklahoma we have extreme heat and 90-percent humidity so we cut back on sow feed because the fatter they are the hotter they can get,” he says.
And when it is time to feed sows, be sure and feed early in the morning before the heat and humidity sets in. It’s also best to vaccinate sows early in the morning and keep their health care up to date.
“The key things are to avoid mixing pigs, keep sows cool with water and fans, feed less feed and feed them early,” George says. “Disturb sows as little as possible and they’ll be less likely to abort during those hot, hot summer months.”